The Dark Side of the Monkey Business

Challenges and dangers faced by the unique families who love their "monkids."

October 31, 2008, 4:06 PM

July 1, 2008— -- Empty nesters looking to relive all the fun of raising children without reliving the turbulent teens are adopting some of our closest relatives: monkeys.

Families are dressing up capuchins, feeding them at the family dinner table and treating them like any other member of the family. They're called monkids.

Lori Johnson adopted her monkid, Jessy, when Jessy was 7 weeks old. Lori's children had all moved out and, struggling with an empty house, Lori fell into a deep depression.

"I thought about babies, but I didn't want to go through the preteens all again," Lori said.

This led her to another solution, and to Jessy.

"She thinks she's a child. She doesn't like other monkeys at all," Lori said. "She'd rather play with the kids."

Jessy is with Lori all the time. When she was a baby, she latched onto Lori's arm 24 hours a day for six months.

"Six months that I showered, went to the stores, cooked, slept, everything with her on my arm, because she wouldn't get off," Lori said. "You couldn't get her off."

It was nine months before Lori could leave the room without Jessy having a panic attack. There were other difficulties, as when Jessy started to nip at Lori and her husband, Jim. They eventually had her teeth removed.

Although there have been challenges, Lori said she couldn't imagine life without Jessy.

"I couldn't imagine not having her," Lori said. "We do something all the time with her."

Jessy gets dressed up in an assortment of handmade dresses, goes everywhere with Lori and Jim, sleeps in the same bed as them and loves fast food. Her favorites are Slim Jims and "monkey" fries.

And what does Lori say when people ask her why she would want a monkey for a daughter?

"I wanted a monkey because it's not going to grow up," Lori said. "And I'm not going to grow up."

This arrangement isn't unique. There are hundreds of videos on the Internet of proud parents enjoying their capuchins. It's estimated there are 15,000 monkeys living with humans as pets or surrogate children in the United States.

Unfortunately, not all monkid stories end so happily.

Angelle Sampey has always wanted a monkey since holding her first baby monkey at a petting zoo as a child. Several years ago, single and with a career as a motorcycle drag racer taking off, Sampey thought adopting a monkid could fill the void.

"I can't race and, you know, bear a child. And I thought, you know, adopting a monkey as a surrogate child would be a good thing to do," Sampey said.

Sampey found her capuchin on the Internet and bought him from a breeder in the Midwest. She picked up her "son," Andy at the airport.

"I was so happy. I had a baby," Sampey said. "I could dress him, put a diaper on him and he would drink [from] bottles."

Like Jessy, Andy also latched onto his new mother for six months.

"But to me, that was cute. He loves me. I didn't see it as this animal needs his mother," Sampey said.

Everything seemed right in the beginning, and Sampey spent thousands of dollars building a special room for Andy in her home. But Sampey's joy became an emotional nightmare, when she found out about how monkeys are sometimes taken taken their mothers.

Sampey learned after she bought Andy that mothers are routinely darted with sedatives so the babies can be removed.

"Can you imagine taking a baby from a mother out of the hospital? And that's what we did," Sampey said. "He is a wild monkey. He is never going to be domesticated, and it took me seven years to realize that."

During those seven years, Andy tore down the walls and curtains and ripped out the wiring in the special room Sampey had built for him. Sampey knew Andy was lonely and depressed.

When Andy thought Sampey had come to take away the peanuts she'd given him, Andy attacked her, biting her repeatedly.

"I walked into the room and he just, he bit me everywhere he could bite me. He ripped my elbow open, right across my wrist, on my hand, the back of my knee," Sampey said. "And it all happened within, like, three seconds. I got out of the room as fast as I could. But I got out of the room bleeding all over the place."

That night, Sampey searched online and found Kari Bagnall who runs the Jungle Friends Primate Sanctuary in Florida.

Jungle Friends is home to more than 100 monkeys, many of whom were surrogate children whose "parents" could no longer care for them. Sampey's story is all too familiar to Bagnall.

"I have monkeys here that the people have had for 20 years. Never had a problem," Bagnall said. "Twenty years later, the monkey attacks. So it's just something, it's going to happen. It's not a matter of, you know, if they're going to attack. It's when."

After arriving at the sanctuary, there are extraordinary challenges for the monkeys. In many cases, their teeth have been pulled out and their fingers cut off.

"They have a sedentary lifestyle, they don't do anything and they eat garbage," said Bagnall.

"The breeders tell you, 'Oh, it's just like having a baby ... you get to bottle feed them and they can stay on the bottle forever,'" Bagnall said. "It's just crazy."

There are dozens of other monkeys on the waiting list for Jungle Friends. Sampey, who once spent thousands on her monkid Andy, is now contributing thousands to Jungle Friends, the new home of her son.

"He's going to live in our hearts now, not our home," Sampey said.

For more information about Jungle Friends Sanctuary please Click Here.

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